Rupert Murdoch claimed that he knew nothing of the News of the World phone hacking scandal when it initially happened. During a judicial inquiry in London on Thursday, which was investigating the tabloid’s violation of ethics, Murdoch apologized for not taking immediate action.
Besides the fact that this half-assed apology is too little too late, Murdoch should be well aware that his role at the throne of printed press compromises every ounce of integrity that comes with journalism. Being a businessman in such an environment entails forsaking integrity with readers. So trying to present himself as someone of moral standards, while seizing every opportunity to expand his empire, is not going to fly.
The fact that he is walking free as the head of an organization responsible for hacking the phone of a murdered British girl is bad enough. He is only adding insult to injury by trying to make it look like he cares. Because of the immensity of News Corp. and some of its marquee subsidiaries, including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The Times of London, Murdoch has established a dictatorial immunity, free to allow his publications to sway political inclinations and operate in corrupt fashions. But this is not a characteristic of relatively conservative media alone, as Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has been responsible for printing some questionable content in The New York Times to boost sales. Herein lies the problem of negotiating business and journalism.
Publications obviously need to make money and their owners are accordingly going to have that goal in mind. But monopolizing a business and monopolizing the press, as Murdoch does, are two vastly different things. And judging by the rampant corruption to which Murdoch has at least played silent witness for years, he doesn’t understand the discrepancy.
You see, in a business sense, Murdoch is a genius. He has managed to maintain control over what seems like the entire world’s printed word for decades. It’s sort of the archetypal American success story. A foreigner comes in, rises to prominence, and becomes the figurehead of an industry. And all is well and good as he watches corruption seep in.
But in a modern journalistic climate where policing oneself is almost as important as the work one produces, Murdoch is falling well below adequacy. If I had a photo of myself pouring bottles of Everclear onto my head on Facebook, the legitimacy of my written work would rightfully be questioned. Granted, this pales in comparison to what News of the World did, but even the smallest of stains can soil a reputation.
We don’t like Rupert Murdoch because we were supposed to trust him. Every time you read a newspaper, or turn on the television to watch news, there is an implicit agreement that both sides are being honest. It’s a relationship, like most, that becomes complicated when money is involved.
It is perfectly just and fair for Murdoch to have seized control of the world’s press, as he’s pretty much done. But what he should begin to realize at his stately, elderly age is that whether or not he has directly had anything to do with the abhorrent corruption and deceitful acts of his publications, he will never be trusted because he’s just too goddamn big for his shoes.
People apologize for accidents, not perpetrations. As he tries to cover up his tracks, Murdoch is only lifting that flimsy veil of honesty that his publications may at one point have portrayed. It’s a waste of time to say sorry for being something we should have known he was.
There is no way Murdoch was not made aware, or even had a role in orchestrating the phone hacking anyway. According to Piers Morgan, who was the former editor of News of the World, Murdoch would call him weekly to discuss the publication. Just because it represented a mere fraction of his enormous media empire does not exclude Murdoch from the responsibility of both managing and policing it. But he just didn’t care enough.